Thames Valley complete successful Northern Regions Provincial 7s Series.
Since 2019, when the Thames Valley Swamp Fox Men miraculously qualified for the National 7s in Tauranga, Provincial Union (PU) 7’s has not existed.
In March 2023, the Northern Regions stakeholders (Thames Valley, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Counties Manukau, King Country, Taranaki, Auckland, North Harbour and Northland) decided to work together and create an attractive series which would lead the revival of Rugby 7s in New Zealand.
With Taranaki, King Country and Auckland opting out, Thames Valley made the bold decision to enter both a Swamp Fox (Men) and Vixen (Women’s) team into the 3-week series against all NPC first-tier provinces. The aim was to give players another opportunity to wear our proud colours and crest, create more pathways for players and management, and also to test our local players against quality opposition.
After putting our hand up to host the first of three tournament’s in Whangamata, it was an exceptional day hosting everyone in our beautiful province, with large crowds sitting on the banks throughout the day, joining in the festivities with food and drink, whilst watching high-quality rugby. Following this was the second of the ‘pre-requisite’ tournaments, both teams travelled to Pukekohe for the Counties Manukau leg. Both teams showed vast improvement from the previous tournament in Whangamata with a number of close results and clearly building towards the main event in Whangarei on the 25th November.
Both teams travelled up to Whangarei on Friday, staying two nights, to give them every opportunity to create something special at the main event hosted by Northland Rugby Union at Pohe Island. The Swamp Foxes (Men) went down early in pool play to Bay of Plenty (7-31) and North Harbour (5-29). With confidence still high, they went into their final pool match against Waikato with nothing to lose. In what was a quality Waikato team, featuring noticeable players Luke Masirewa, Newton Tudreu and Fletcher Morgan, Thames Valley pulled off a remarkable upset victory (14-10). A late try to Jarrod Gellert sealing the victory from a great team try on the full-time hooter. This created a strong buzz within the Thames Valley camp, and the strong contingent of supporters who travelled up North to support our teams. Now playing Northland in the semi-final, the emotional roller coaster eventually caught up with the team, going down (14-26) and then eventually losing the Bowl Final to Bay of Plenty.
The Vixen’s (Women) also created history by beating North Harbour (12-10) in the Bowl Final of the Women’s Competition. For the first time, a Heartland Provincial Union Women’s team claimed a scalp against a Farah Palmer Cup Provincial Union. The Vixen’s defensive effort late in the match was the difference between the two teams, sustaining pressure and forcing a mistake. This capped off a challenging three weeks for the Vixens, with a large number of players falling to injury and unavailability, meaning the team had to dig deep into the player stocks. Earlier in pool play, the Vixens lost to Bay of Plenty (0-22), North Harbour (0-14) and Waikato (7-22). This victory over North Harbour continues to solidify and build on the success and growth we are witnessing in the Women’s space within the Thames Valley.
From a player standpoint, The Swamp Foxes were able to bleed in three boys all under the age of 20 years old, Korbin Chwesik, Max Baker and Fozz Gilbert all of whom have had great 2023 seasons, showed their quality in the Men’s Representative scene with numerous quality performances and contributions. Dane Mathew of Mercury Bay was a consistent standout performer after his experience in the Heartland Championship this season. As were Charlie Best with pace and energy on attack, and Eliki Sicinilawa who was an enforcer on defence (to name a few).
For the Vixens, Cory Middleton who lives in Coromandel but played for the Hauraki North Diamonds put in a massive shift each week. As was fellow Diamond, Natasha Forsythe, who was involved in everything and continues to show her talent. It was also a prime opportunity for two Secondary School students, Josey Hansen (Paeroa College) and Dana Lang (Hauraki Plains College) who never took a backwards step and again showed the talent we have coming through our female ranks.
The TVRU would like to thank the key volunteers that led our teams throughout the campaign, Brendan Clark (Vixens) and Scott Paterson, Steven Hill, Jason Simpson and Tamsin Armstrong (Swamp Foxes).
We now look ahead to 2024 and wait for direction about what lies ahead in the Rugby 7s space within New Zealand. The hope for everyone is that the National Tournament returns which would add extra fizz to the already great program that the Northern Regions stakeholders have created.